Hat tip to Daniel Mount (and David Bruce Murray in a subsequent comment), for inspiring this post. Daniel put up a post asking for reader feedback on whether differences among Christian denominations can influence the way a Christian song lyric is crafted. DBM commented that he’d love to see how the discussion would proceed along a slightly different line: Do denominational differences influence stylistic differences in music? So I’ve decided to take it up here on southerngospelyankee.
So denominational differences can certainly be tied to stylistic variations in music. That much is obvious. But I think the question may have been slightly different: Do doctrinal differences have a direct causal effect on how music is written? This question is less obvious to answer. It is one thing to say that a black gospel sound is part of the charismatic tradition, or that a southern gospel sound is part of the Southern Baptist tradition. It’s another thing to say that a writer’s theological beliefs will affect the music he writes (as distinguished from the lyrics he writes). We can find plenty of examples of correlation, but what about causation?
But at the same time, I see people and churches who have wildly different music, yet essentially the same doctrinal foundation. For example, Sovereign Grace Ministries produces music with a very contemporary, wall-of-sound feel, but at the same time they are passionate about writing meaningful, biblically correct lyrics, and one of their ballads was even picked up by the Booth Brothers. As another example, I recently watched some footage from Church On the Move in Oklahoma, and I couldn’t stand most of their music they were playing. Yet their pastor’s preaching is rock solid, with a southern accent you could cut with a knife. He seems like he’d be equally at home at the little brown church in the vale. Among artists, there are obviously many Southern Baptists in southern gospel, but there are plenty in CCM too. As one example, Christian rock group Casting Crowns has worked closely with Georgia’s Sherwood Baptist Church, who made Facing the Giants and Fireproof. However, to say that their music isn’t exactly southern gospel would be putting it mildly, even though doctrinally there may not be much to separate them from Signature Sound. And for our part, we have southern gospel artists meeting CCM halfway with a “progressive” sound, some of whom even take inspiration from secular music. (Odds are you’re more likely to catch Ernie Haase listening to Michael Buble than the Inspirations.)
And to top it off, there are quite a few songwriters with cuts in both CCM and southern gospel. Perhaps the most remarkable example I’ve found is Tony Wood, who can literally write anything. He’s had cuts by everybody from Petra to ZOEgirl to Scott Krippayne to 4Him to the Booth Brothers. He’s worked with well-known CCM writers and well-known southern gospel writers like Joel Lindsey and Jim Brady. Sometimes I wonder whether Christian music has ever fully realized how much it owes to Tony when I look at the sheer number of classic songs with his name on them. But in any case, whatever his denominational affiliation, it hasn’t stopped him from being versatile as all get-out. And he’s only one example. I could name others.